Gordon Scheifele, a researcher with the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, is ready to take his Northern Ontario hemp project one step further, growing more than 120 acres of the plant from Rainy River to Manitoulin Island.
Nine different farms in the Rainy River District alone have agreed to raise five-acre on-farm strip trials of hemp and different varieties of it.
Five such trials also are being conducted in the Kenora-Dryden area, with six more in Thunder Bay, three in Sudbury, and two on Manitoulin Island.
"In addition, we’ll have six research stations doing trials, of which Emo is one," Scheifele said.
For the past couple of years, Scheifele and research stations across Northern Ontario have been working with hemp trials. Results at the Emo Research Station last year showed hemp will grow quite well in Rainy River District.
This year, Scheifele is looking to nail down some specific numbers on what variety of hemp gives the yield of fibers, and what soil conditions provide the best crop.
"We can use this information for a business plan as a potential hemp industry for the Rainy River District," he said.
While a marijuana dealer will grow plants for leaves, the real value of the hemp plant lies in its stem and seed. The wood fibres it produces can be used in dozens of applications, from rope to particle board--and even non-petroleum plastics.
But the big market lies in the oil produced from its seed, Scheifele said.
"Hemp oil is the most nutritionally balanced vegetable oil for human use," he said. "It’s heat sensitive so it can’t be used for cooking but for table use [such as salad oil].
"And there is already an established market on this oil," he added, noting a hemp oil processing plant already is established in the Brandon area.
For the most part, hemp oil factories have to import their seeds from Europe. But with the federal government now allowing hemp to be grown in Canada, local farmers could cash in on a very promising industry.
Scheifele said some district farmers were trying to establish a hemp growers’ association, with preliminary plans of raising hemp for seed and then reaping a secondary income from the stalks.
"We’re still very much at the ground floor at that subject," he stressed, noting nothing definite has been planned.
But the potential for a booming hemp industry is there, Scheifele said. So much so, it might even be possible to establish a primary processing plant here to separate the outer stalk from the inner core--if there’s enough demand for it.
"It’s a million-dollar investment that needs a minimum of 1,000 acres of hemp grown," Scheifele said. "And it would generate about 10 full-time jobs."